Flare-up: For the random spasm or ache, grab some Tylenol. "Most acute back pain is not inflammatory, so for many people, taking an analgesic like acetaminophen may be all they need," says Portenoy. When this doesn't work, then try an NSAID.
You need something stronger: When you're in agony, or the discomfort doesn't relent in several days, ask your doctor about a combination drug such as Tylenol with codeine, a prescription NSAID, or a short-acting opioid. Drugs for chronic back pain include antidepressants, antiepileptics, muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), and long-acting opioids like OxyContin.
4. Joint Pain
Once in a while: For the occasional achy hip or shoulder, either acetaminophen or an NSAID (which may help more if there's inflammation) should do the trick, says Fishman.
You need something stronger: Treatments include prescription-level NSAIDS, muscle relaxants, short-acting opioids, and corticosteroid shots. Chronic pain patients may also be prescribed the new fibromyalgia drug Lyrica, as well as certain antidepressants.
In addition to medication, a number of complementary treatments—including acupuncture, guided imagery, cognitive and physical therapy, massage, and hydrotherapy—can help ease pain. Mindfulness meditation in particular has proven to be incredibly effective, says Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, author of Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Begin by simply focusing on your breath. Pay attention to every inhalation and exhalation through your nostrils. Picture the breath circulating all around your body, then imagine breathing specifically through the area where the pain is located. If you have a headache, for example, visualize the breath going through a hole at the top of your head; for menstrual cramps, it would flow through your pelvis. Do this for five to 20 minutes, and you should begin to notice the pressure diminish.